Monday, January 14, 2013

The Great Leadership Learning Matrix

“Everyone is an idiot, not just the people with low SAT scores. The only differences among us is that we're idiots about different things at different times. No matter how smart you are, you spend much of your day being an idiot.”
- Scott Adams, The Dilbert Principle

I just created this learning and development model based on 20-plus years of training, coaching, and mentoring others. Just about anybody I could think of, including myself, would fall into one of these four quadrants:

Here's a summary of each type of learner:

1. The Ostrich
Doesn't know a lot and doesn't really give a damn about it. That's not always a bad thing. For example, I don't know a lot about art history and I really don't care to learn about it. However, for a manager, being unskilled in leadership and not wanting do do anything about it is a recipe for failure. These managers are often stuck in their own comfort zone, over rely on a few key strengths  and will justify their behavior by saying things like "hey, that's just the way I am".
They won't seek out feedback, ignore it if they get it, and are seen as unwilling or unable to adapt.
Being "retired on the job" isn't about age - I've seen it happen to as many younger managers as older ones.
These are often the managers who "get sent" to leadership training or have a coach forced upon them. Without a willingness to learn, the chances for behavior change are slim.

2. The Eager Beaver
Eager beavers are often new in their roles or are in a situation where they need to learn something new in order to be successful. In other words, their jobs depend on it.
I love working with new supervisors - they just soak up anything you offer them. The problem is, they sometimes are a little too eager, and try to take on too many new skills at once. They can come across as not genuine, lack consistency, and are prone to lose their confidence. They can also be gullible - being an easy target for the latest fads or silver bullets promising to make them great leaders in 10 easy steps.
Eager beavers need to take it one step at a time, and prioritize their learning and development goals around the critical few that will having the biggest and most immediate return-on-investment.

3. The Know-it-all
Unlike the ostrich, know-it-alls really do have a lot of talent or expertise around the subject (in this case, leadership and management). However, they can come across as  arrogant, presumptuousness, close-minded, and judgmental. They also may be very successful in their current role, but struggle with transitioning to new roles, given their unwillingness to let go of old skills and pick up new ones.

4. The Continuous Learner
Continuous learners are always looking to improve, no matter how good they are. In sports, they're the Tom Bradys, the Peyton Mannings - superstar all-pros, but always the last ones off the practice field and putting in  overtime studying film of their next opponent. They are the David Bowies, the Madonnas of rock and roll, always looking to stay current and relevant, and knowing when it's time to reinvent themselves.
Continuous learner leaders seem to be naturally curious and outstanding listeners. They are not faking it - they really do feel that they can learn something from everyone. They are not afraid to admit their weaknesses, and openly share their development plans to address those weaknesses. They are always seeking feedback, and seem to know how to take that feedback and adapt their behavior accordingly.

So what do you think of the model? As a coach, trainer, or manager, do you recognize your clients, students,  or employees?

More importantly - can you recognize yourself, and catch yourself if you're in a quadrant that you shouldn't be in for the situation?

Comments on the model are welcome! 


Jennifer V. Miller said...


I love the quadrant! Always helpful for sorting information - as long as we don't pigeon-hole folks.

Ashok Vaishnav said...

Gautam Budhdha, had shunned his wife, Yashodhara, and son, Rahul, as well his kingdom and all the strappings of mundane world so as to dwell deep within the self to get rid of all possible layers of the unknown known. After several years of severe penance, he does reach the state of the Exalted One, one who has attained the state of Knowing All.
This is a well-known folklore.
However, there is satirical story – no way demeaning what Budhdha had attained – wherein Budhdha happens to visit his home for collecting the daily alms. Yashodhara asks him, “What have you found that you could not have found by remaining within ‘this’ world?”Budhdha does not have any definitive answer.
While reading the article, I recollect these stories in a very different perspective – to get to the state of “Know-all” calls for a very rigorous introspection that pierces through the layers of ‘known’, ‘unknown known’ and ‘unknown’ so that you know what you know and what you do not know. Thus getting to the state of ‘know-all’ certainly seems no easy task. And even those who may have indeed reached that state also remain opened to be questioned!
Herman Hesse, in “Sidhdharth”, offers a very interesting insight to this dilemma: If you remained rooted to a point on a bank of a flowing river, do you remain in the state of ‘stand-still’? If you take a myopic view of your being rooted to a point, you may feel that world is at ‘stand-still’, but the flowing water makes your static state passively dynamic.
So, the process of determining where we are, in these quadrants, can throw up a multitude of possibilities of looking at where we are. And then add to it, the question – where we ought to be? Or where we want to be?
Thanks, Dan, for so vividly pointing out a path to the journey of learning.

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks, glad you liked the new model. With no pigeon-holing.

Thanks for sharing those stories.

Mary Jo Asmus said...

Hi Dan,

I think this is an interesting tool for self awareness. We should all strive to be in continual learner mode. Like Jennifer, I would be concerned about labelling and make it clear that at any point in time you might be in any one of those quadrants. I know I am. When I find myself thinking that I'm all-knowledgeable, I need to notice, and gain a little humility by looking for a new learning opportunity. That'll do it! Thanks, Mary Jo

Anonymous said...

Like Mary Jo, above, I've seen these mindsets, and they DO depend on the situation and labelling may prevent us from being empathetic with what people need in the situation.
What I would find make this model even more helpful, would be the strategies/options to help oneself/others. Would/Could the different levers be awareness, choices, intrinsic inspiration? or change leadership building?...What levers do you find useful Dan when you view people through this filter?)

Dan McCarthy said...

Mary Jo -
Yes, I agree, the model was designed to be used in a situational context. As Scott Adams said "we're all idiots (I chose to use the label "Ostrich") about different things at different times".

Anon -
Thanks for your comments and question. I think as leaders, or coaches, we should first start with ourselves. For example, like Mary Jo, in a leadership program, I went in thinking I was a Know-it-all about leadership, and realized about halfway through the program that I had a LOT to learn. It was indeed a humbling, yet valuble experience.
Once we have that empathy, I think we can help others check thier assumptions, suspend thier judgement, and encourage a mindset of continuous learning. Anyway, it sounds like the subject of at aleast another post.(-:

Karen Wright said...

Love the model, Dan, and yes I've definitely been each of those types many times. What I particularly like about it is the fact that the four-quadrant format is familiar and simple, rendering the idea available for understanding and application very quickly. Nice one - I will add it to my coaching toolkit, with full attribution of course. Thanks!

Dan McCarthy said...

Karen -
Thanks! When it goes in your toolkit, I know I've done well. (-:

Boland Jones said...

I like the quadrant model and the categories make sense. Thank you for putting this out there. It’s important to remember, however, that a person can straddle two (or more?) of the quadrants at once and as leaders we need to help them along if that’s the case, usher them into a more desirable space for the benefit of the company. And how often do we switch between quadrants ourselves. It’s important to correct our own leadership skills when they meander into a less-than-ideal space.

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks for your comments!

Terry said...

Very useful model. Thank you. I think this is a great model for leaders to use develop their people. However, the question then remains - how can leaders motivate people to learn? I think the answer may lie in understanding the learner's intrinsic motivators. This is often where manyleaders go wrong. They tend to unconsciously assume other people are motivated in the same way they are.

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks. Right, motivation has to come from the earner, and continuous learners and eager beavers are motivated to learn.

John and Laurie said...

Great model Dan. I really enjoyed the article. Of course you want all Continuous Learners or Eager Beavers on your team. I would be curious to hear from you and others on how to motivate the other two or if it is even possible.

Dan McCarthy said...

John and Laurie -
Thanks! Again, "how to motivate someone to want to learn and improve" is another topic altogether. The short answer is, you really can't, the motivation has to come from within. As a manager or coach, you can provide feedback, consequences, inspiration, etc.... - it may provide the nudge that the person needs to get motivated.